You will be absolutely SHOCKED to hear that Facebook is making money off of transphobic and homophobic ads on their platform, a thing that has never happened before and surely will never occur ever again.
While social media always features a general buzz of bigotry, this week has seen that noise heightened thanks to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act, also known as HR 5. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing list of attributes (such as race and religion) that are protected from being turned away from a business, or evicted, or kicked. (And BTW, you absolutely must watch this excellent testimony on the bill this week by Washington state sophomore Stella Keating.)
Naturally, right-wing organizations don’t care for any of this, which has been a real windfall for Facebook, a company only too happy to take their money in exchange for amplifying some truly toxic bigotry. Is it true that the Equality Act will “result in the murder of millions of more preborn children”? No, of course it isn’t, but that hasn’t stopped Facebook from showing that message to over 100,000 people, according to the company’s own stats. Great!!!
It’s not hard to find Facebook's homophobic and transphobic ads — just search the ad library for “equality act,” and voila. There’s an ad for Right to Life of Kern County that points to an interview with a California pastor, Chad Vegas (which, sidenote, sounds like the name of the world’s most single stage magician). Vegas says that the Equality Act is wrong because “a man can’t be a woman,” and “two men don’t belong together in the same way that a man and woman belong together.”
That ad, which is still running right now, has only been seen by a small handful of people — one to two thousand, according to Facebook, costing under $100. But far more popular is the ad from a group called Live Action, which says that the Equality Act could kill millions of “preborn” children. According to Live Action:
The Equality Act requires all federal and state health programs along with every hospital, clinic, school, or healthcare organization that receives federal funds to stop what it calls ‘pregnancy discrimination’ and provide access to all ‘treatments’ for the ‘condition’ of pregnancy.
Okay, cool. For one thing, the term “pregnancy discrimination” does not appear anywhere in the bill, so what are you even talking about, Live Action??? (Their claim is that the Equality Act would consider a doctor’s refusal to provide an abortion to be a form of discrimination, which is a pretty debatable interpretation of the law.) Also, that entire paragraph is another way of saying that “health care organizations that take money from taxpayers should provide actual health care to pregnant women,” which, oh no, what a catastrophe.
Facebook has made between $300 and $399 on that ad.
Then there’s this ad from the Family Policy Alliance that has a reach of between 10,000 and 50,000 people, and sends Facebook users to a page claiming that trans girls are really boys, and that allowing trans youth to use the locker room that aligns with their gender will “pressure children toward experimental cross-sex hormones.” (That’s not true, obviously — medications that harmlessly delay puberty are not “experimental,” as there’s a ton of knowledge about them and evidence that they’re safe and non-permanent.)
Or check out this Facebook ad from the Illinois Family Institute, which calls trans organizers “cultists” and “sex-eradicationists” — this is gibberish — and points to a page that says trans people are “cross-sex impersonators” who have “disordered feelings.” Between 50,000 and 60,000 people have seen that ad, which has made Facebook between $200 and $299.
And here’s another good one: An ad from the Billy Graham Evanglistic Association, which netted $300 to $399 for Facebook, offers an “update” on the Equality Act, pointing users to a page that says trans girls are boys… and so on, and so on, and so on, repeating the same garbage that every transphobic organization on the planet has been recycling for years. There’s tons of ads like these all over Facebook — literally millions of them, hitting hundreds of thousands of users. Media Matters has a comprehensive roundup.
Facebook has a policy against this kind of rhetoric, of course, with community standards that prohibit posts that attack people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — you know, the same categories that the Equality Act seeks to protect. The policy prohibits posts that include “statements of inferiority,” “expressions of contempt,” and “calls for exclusion of segregation.” (Worth noting: A recent update to the hate speech policy currently fails to load. Nice work.)
Mark Zuckerberg even posted last year that the company would prohibit ads claiming that people from a specific sexual orientation or gender identity “are a threat to the physical safety, health, or survival of others.”
Well, we can see how well those commitments are working out. If you want to spread homophobia, transphobia, bigotry, and misinformation to hundreds of thousands of people on Facebook, it’s not hard. All you need to do is give them a little money.
I’ve requested comment from Facebook on this, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.